by Eyal Chowers
For Merlin Ural Rivera's Writing and Literature Class
In Partenship with Librarian David Pemberton
“In October, a new type of magazine will be published. It will either elate the top 100,000 thinking men in this country, or be a miserable flop. Frankly, we don’t know which” - This was the headline of a pre-launch advertisement, published in the New Yorker in 1951, for Gentry magazine. This seemingly pretentious ad turned out quite adequate - Gentry was truly the unofficial “bible” for every man who considered himself (or at least wished to be) cultured. With only 22 issues published between 1951 and 1957, this veritable style and culture manual for men is renowned for its innovation, superb design, and production quality. Gentry showcased a keen eye for fashion and excellent coverage of a broad spectrum of topics—art and culture; sports; food and drink; home, cars, and travel. It addressed diverse subjects on which every refined man should be well versed, from making a mean martini to how to match your handkerchief with your new coat.
William C. Segal, who was born around 1904 in Macon, Georgia, established, edited and published Gentry magazine. Segal started his career in the magazine world in the late 1930s, focusing on the menswear field, with an independent newsletter called The Neckwear Reporter, which was successful enough to allow six publication. In 1946, along with his first wife Segal, he founded American Fabrics, which was then considered ambitious and innovative regarding its printing and material use. The magazine, which was a trade magazine approaching the textile industry, included built-in fabric sample swatches and broadened the dimensional feel within the two-dimension experience of a printed magazine. Segall hired well-known artists, Salvador Dali among them, to design covers and editorials in to intrigue his readers. Five years later Segal used his experience and took his creative ambitions one step further. He established Gentry, an elevated version of a men’s lifestyle magazine, focusing on the consumer rather than the trade. Segal took further liberty with experimental printing techniques, using first-rate paper and materials. The result was a high-end publication, consisting of uncommon visual effects and surprises for the readers; booklets, limited prints, die-cuts, half-sheets, fabric swatches - even a packet of seeds to accompany an article about gardening. Various artists, including Henri Matisse, designed the covers, which sometimes accompanied a story featured in the issue and sometimes without any other rational rather than their beauty.
However alluring Gentry looked and felt, it was Segal’s passion and distinctive personality that shaped the magazine to its exceptional form. Known for practicing Buddhism, Segal spent a lot of time in search of finding the spiritual in the everyday manner. Segal imposed his interests and perspective on the world over the pages of his magazine. He introduced themes and subjects that bypassed the standard lifestyle magazine, and helped shape the tastes and opinions of his readers. A variety of topics concerning art, history, religion, philosophy, and travel were covered. The first issue included an article named “What it means to be a Man.” Segal taught his readers how to eat well, how to order wines or what to read, and above all - how to dress well. The fashion section of the magazine showcased a man who was as elegant as the editor.
Gentry was active along the 1950s, a decade that marked the dawn of consumerism among the American society, and in many ways reinforced gender rules. The flood of advertisements used the preconceived definitions of masculinity and femininity to elevate their sales. However, Gentry seemed to take a different approach regarding this issue, as it translated machismo elegantly and less rigidly. If the Playboy man was a swinging young bachelor, the Gentry man could have been his wealthier, better educated, and probably married older brother, a man of more diverse tastes, more widely traveled, and more comfortable in his preferences with less need to impress others with his hipness.
Despite the cutting-edge production and original content, Gentry magazine didn’t receive the recognition it deserved and was forgotten over the years. However, over sixty years after the magazine wrapped up, flipping through the colorful spreads of the issues proves that Gentry was a classic. The SVA library Periodicals section holds all the 22 issues, and readers who find interest in some old-school lessons of culture and elegance will find great pleasure in browsing this unique gem.
Sep 19 2018